Law Students Interested in Human Rights Wanted for Volunteer Work in Brazil

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Terra de Direitos are recruiting law students or recent law school graduates for a legal clerkship in Brazil that is available for any period of time running from a semester to a full year.

"We strongly encourage applicants to consider spending an entire year in Brazil with TDD. We are flexible with start and end dates; however, we do ask that you specify exactly when you wish to start and end your clerkship. We review applications four (4) times per year: March 1, June 1, September 1, and December 1," informed the RFK Center

They also ask the candidate to not submit their application and resume more than six months before the date he intends to begin his clerkship. We will contact applicants soon after the review meetings.

Terra de Direitos (TDD) (Earth/Land Rights)

TDD is a non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 2002 in Curitiba, Paraná by Darci Frigo, Leandro Gorsdorf, and Cynthia Passos-Miner, land-rights lawyers and human rights advocates. Darci and Leandro share coordinating responsibilities for the organization.

TDD is dedicated to the defense of human rights, including social, environmental, economic, political, and civil rights, as well as providing legal services/accompaniment to the landless movement.

Using a human rights advocacy approach, TDD creates and protects "political space" for rural landless workers and other Brazilians to fight for the full range of rights mandated by Brazil’s Constitution as well as international human rights law.

TDD’s Advisory Council comprises representatives of social movements that help guide the "work agenda" of TDD. In addition to the social movements, the Council includes representatives of universities, Quilombo communities (descendants of slaves), cooperatives, etc.

TDD works on state, regional, national, and international levels, on class-action cases that are "model" cases, representing a widespread problem and holding out the possibility, if successfully prosecuted, of setting valuable legal precedents that can be applied in similar cases later on.

Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) (Pastoral Land Commission)

TDD partners with CPT on projects/initiatives of joint interest. CPT is an ecumenical arm of the social ministry of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops.

Darci Frigo worked for 16 years with CPT. It is a leading organization dedicated to human rights protection in rural Brazil, documenting violations, producing periodic reports, and supporting and assisting landless workers in their struggle for land rights. 

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) (Landless Workers Movement)

The MST is the largest social movement in Latin America and one of the most successful grassroots movements in the world. Hundreds of thousands of landless peasants have taken onto themselves the task of carrying out long-overdue land reform.

The success of the MST lies in its ability to organize. During its 20 years in action, its members have not only managed to secure land, thereby guaranteeing food security for their families, but have come up with an alternative socio-economic development model that puts people before profits.

The MST has resisted the violent repression of the large landowners and has gathered support from a broad international network of human rights groups, religious organizations, and labor unions.

The MST created 60 food cooperatives and a number of small agricultural industries. Their literacy program involves 600 educators. The movement monitors 1,000 primary schools in their settlements, in which 2,000 teachers work with about 50,000 kids. 

Relationship Between RFK and TDD

Darci Frigo is the 2001 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award. RFK undertakes advocacy and support that complements Darci and TDD’s efforts, thereby seeking to maximize Darci’s ability to achieve his social justice goals. One method that has been developed is the present internship program.

Structure of Clerkship

Part One: Two-week orientation at TDD office in Curitiba, Paraná. Themes covered: human rights in Brazil; overview of organizations involved in human rights in Brazil; national and international judicial instruments used in human rights defense; Brazil’s social movements and landless movement; legal/Constitutional underpinnings of land reform; President Lula’s hunger- and poverty-prevention initiative; etc. Clerks and TDD will choose specific project(s) each clerk will undertake during his/her time with TDD (projects agreed upon will be based on clerks’ interests/skills and TDD’s needs).

Part Two: Approximately 6 weeks in length: 60% to 70% spent in Curitiba, Paraná state (TDD base). The remainder of the time will be devoted to taking trips to other states to attend conferences, meetings, and training workshops, as well as visiting landless encampments.

Such trips will be from one to five days in length; overnight stays will be organized with local TDD partners, often members of CPT, MST, and other social movements. Those TDD partners will serve as local mentors/guides to the RFK-TDD clerks during their stay in their communities.

Part Three: Clerks will be given a one-week "break" halfway through their time spent with TDD to permit them to relax or travel somewhere on their own account. The specific dates of the break will be set during the first two weeks of orientation.

Part Four: Approximately 6 weeks in length: 60% to 70% in Curitiba and the rest will be devoted to trips to conferences, meetings, and training workshops, as well as visit landless encampments.

Part Five: The final week will be spent in Curitiba exchanging experiences and perspectives with each other and TDD staff; analyzing information/data collected; writing up reports for RFK and TDD on their research/fieldwork.

Additional Opportunities

The clerks will assist TDD in putting on conferences and other events and will attend/participate in them. There will also be seminars on human rights defenders, particularly as related to indigenous and rural workers to which the clerks would be invited.

Skills / Qualifications of Prospective Clerks

(1) Desire to work in human rights, but principally from the perspective of the social movements.; (2) wish to understand the reality of rural and urban social movements in Brazil; (3) solid Portuguese proficiency that will enable them to readily converse, read, and write; (4) flexible/adaptable to new situations, peoples, and practices/worldviews; and (4) have empathy with issues related to Latin America, particularly poverty and hunger and their underlying causes.

Specific qualifications include: interviewing skills (especially in non-formal settings, such as someone’s home or agricultural field); understanding of legal tools and methods and their application in human rights contexts; data-collection and analysis techniques; proficient writer; independent worker; and with an academic focus in one or more of the issues mentioned above (i.e. human rights, international development, sustainable agriculture, sociology, etc.).

It is of the utmost importance to note that a clerk whose Portuguese is weak will be seriously constrained from participating in field research, as many of the informants will not understand Spanish or other languages.

Type of Projects Clerks Will Do

Each clerk’s work will be tailored to his/her skill set and TDD’s needs (i.e. some of these projects will be ongoing, so the clerks will continue investigations already underway; other projects might be inaugurated by the clerks and so they would start from the ground up).

The RFK-TDD clerks will undertake Internet and field research into some of the following:
* pending TDD cases at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights
* agrarian reform, sustainable agriculture, land tenure, and the social function of land ownership
* use and control of irrigation and potable water sources and the privatization of water
* use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Brazil’s agricultural production
* rural agricultural cooperatives and small family farmers
* construction of dams and their impacts on rural livelihoods and biodiversity
* current barriers that exist to full implementation of Lula Administration land reform policy
* relationship between environmental conservation and agrarian reform
* taking oral histories and testimonials of land occupations and violent expulsions
* the right to housing; labor rights issues – working conditions, modern-day slavery, child labor, and migration
* violence and impunity in the landless movement’s attempt to get land reform implemented
* arbitrary executions and torture of human rights defenders
* economic, social, and cultural rights of the landless

The clerks will be expected to assist TDD in more general tasks such as (1) drafting petitions from TDD to the UN and OAS; (2) drafting letters of support for human rights defenders or as part of an advocacy campaign; (3) drafting sections of legal reports for TDD’s advocacy; and (4) written translation of letters (Portuguese to English) as documents as needed.

TDD Mentorship for Clerks

The intern(s) will be mentored by Leandro Gorsdorf and Darci Frigo, human rights lawyers who co-founded and co-coordinate TDD. They will meet regularly with the interns to monitor their progress, assign responsibilities, and provide professional guidance.


The clerks will either rent a place together or share housing with TDD employees in Curitiba. When on travel in the field, the clerks will stay in hostels or with TDD partners. In all cases, clerks will be assisted in finding secure, clean, and reasonably-priced lodging by local members of TDD, CPT, and TDD. Responsibility for paying for lodging lies wholly with the clerks.

Approximate Monthly Costs and Miscellaneous
* US $350 – $450 per month (depending on exchange rate) for lodging, food, local transport, and incidentals.
* Clerks are responsible for all costs related to this clerkship.
* It is highly advised that clerks bring their own laptops to ensure adequate access to word-processing and Internet.
* If available, a digital camera would be useful to bring.

Please check the RFK website before submitting your application for notification of times for which a clerkship is no longer available (

Terra de Direitos –

Comissão Pastoral da Terra –

Movimentos dos Sem Terra –


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